Fantasy Baseball: 10 Latest 'Buy Low' Fantasy Trade Options

Gerard MartinCorrespondent IMay 21, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: 10 Latest 'Buy Low' Fantasy Trade Options

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    Eric Hosmer, Jose Reyes and Justin Upton lead the list of fantasy baseball's top "buy low" candidates.

    Buying low is a tricky proposition, one that's never as easy as it seems. You need to find a way to convey interest in an underperforming player without reminding that player's owner of how valuable their asset really is.

    Unless the owner of one of these players has made it widely known that they want to move that player, don't come in with a low-ball offer. When you're buying low, you want to execute the trade with a little negotiation as possible, making sure that you don't give your trading partner too much time to come to his senses.

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals 1B

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    Few players were as hyped heading into the season; few players have been as bad since the season began.

    According to just about every prospect evaluator out there, Eric Hosmer is going to be a star. Even in the midst of his horrendous start, most are sticking to their guns.

    With good reason.

    Hosmer has been the unluckiest player in baseball so far this season.

    The many improvements he's made to his game (walking more, striking out less) have been overshadowed by his basement-dwelling batting average, which reached a hearty .172 after Sunday's 0-4 performance.

    Hosmer's horrific average is a casualty of the worst BABIP in the major leagues, which has bottomed out at just .165. To give that number some perspective, the league's leading hitter, David Wright, sports a .466 BABIP.

    Hosmer's batted ball tendencies are almost identical to last season's, when he finished 563 plate appearances with a .314 BABIP and a .293 batting average.

    He will inevitably experience a healthy amount of positive regression, which along with his improved plate discipline will help him deliver top 10 value at first base, including a .300 batting average, the rest of the way.

Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays 2B/OF

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    Ben Zobrist has always had terrific plate discipline, but this season, he's taken it to a new level.

    Zobrist has walked 31 times this season. He's struck out only 29 times.

    Only 13 other players in MLB have a positive BB/K ratio. Of those 14 players, only three have an ISO over .200: David Wright, Joey Votto and Zobrist.

    Wright and Votto have been fantasy superstars, hitting .409 and .380, respectively. Somehow, for all of his discipline and patience at the plate, Zobrist's batting average languishes at just .217.

    He's been incredibly patient, swinging at fewer pitches than ever before and making solid contact with regularity, roping 20 percent of his batted balls for line drives.

    Still, Zobrist has a BABIP hovering around .230, a full 50 points below his career average.

    Zobrist's batting average will regress toward his career mark of .254, and he'll chip in at least 20 home runs and 10 steals the rest of the way.

Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins SS

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    Jose Reyes has been unlucky on balls put in play, but few hitters have been better in at bats in which the ball isn't put into play. Like Ben Zobrist, Reyes is one of only 14 players to post a positive BB/K ratio.

    His walk rate has reached a career high 11.5 percent and his strikeout rate has sunk to a career low 6.6 percent.

    Reyes is the type of hitter who can maintain a BABIP in the mid .300s, yet so far this season, he's struggled to push it over .260. That number is doubly amazing given the fact that the speedy Reyes has hit a line drive or ground ball on nearly 73 percent of the balls he's put in play.

    Given his batted ball profile, Reyes' batting average is bound to return to his career norm of .290. With his improved plate discipline, that regression will give him a chance to best last year's career-high OBP, which will give him even more chances to steal bases.

    He already has ten stolen bases, which puts him on pace for a total around 35. However, with an upcoming uptick in OBP, Reyes could absolutely reach 45 stolen bases for the full season.

John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers RP

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    Many closers without John Axford's track record of success would have lost their job by now. Luckily for Axford, the Milwaukee Brewers and his fantasy owners, the Brewers brass has taken a patient approach with their seemingly struggling closer.

    Yes, the 4.72 ERA is ugly, but the 1.09 FIP that lies beneath it portends future success for Axford.

    He's been graced with absolutely brutal fortune, with luck-driven stats (.444 BABIP and 56.5 percent strand rate) that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

    Still, even with that relatively uncontrollable adversity, he's managed to convert six of his seven save chances. Axford has allowed more than one run in only two of his 15 appearances.

    On an even more positive note, Axford has registered the best strikeout rate of his career, sending 34.9 percent of hitters back to the dugout without so much as a step down the first base line.

    Axford is an elite fantasy closer, and despite a less than impressive save total, he's pitched like one so far this season.

Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks OF

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    Last year was the final step in Justin Upton's transition from promising prospect to fantasy superstar.

    Unfortunately, his performance in the early-going of this season has been decidedly un-super.

    After pounding a career-high 31 home runs and 39 doubles last season, Upton has managed only four of each in 2012.

    Much of those struggles can be attributed to a thumb injury that Upton suffered in late April. It's the type of injury that won't necessarily keep a player out of the lineup, but will severely impact his ability to generate power.

    It's also the type of injury that can only get better over time. For the full season, it's unlikely that Upton will reach last year's levels of production, but as his thumb gets progressively better, his power numbers will improve.

    In addition to 15-20 steals (he doesn't need thumbs to run fast), expect 20-25 homers from Upton the rest of the way.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals SP

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    Coming back from Tommy John surgery, it was tough to know what to expect from Adam Wainwright. Although he's shown an ability to miss bats like he used to, there are more than a few out-of-character numbers gracing his 2012 stat sheet so far.

    Wainwright has never had a HR/FB rate over 8.5 percent in a full major league season. His 2012 rate sits at 20.8 percent.

    Wainwright has never had a strand rate below 72.6 percent in a full major league season. His 2012 rate is 63.6 percent.

    Wainwright has never allowed a BABIP higher than .304 in a full major league season. His 2012 rate sits at .341.

    The one thing that's been unexpectedly stable this season is Wainwright's velocity. He dialed it up to nearly 94 mph on average in 2010, but prior to that season, he typically kept his fastball right around 90 mph. This season's average mark of 89.9 mph shows that Wainwright has recovered well from surgery.

    He'll probably take a few more starts to find his groove, but Wainwright has been a remarkably consistent pitcher throughout his career. By the time the All-Star break rolls around, he'll be exactly who we knew he was.

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays SP

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    By any measure, Matt Moore has been bad this season.

    His BABIP is a little bit high, his strand rate is a little bit low, but his 4.72 xFIP quickly puts any luck-based argument to bed.

    He's lost a little over one mile per hour on his fastball, but that's nothing to be concerned about. It's due more to his shift from reliever to starter than anything else.

    Moore's walk rate is elevated, but there's not much in his peripherals that suggests it will continue.

    One of the best indicators for future walk rate is how often a pitcher pumps in a strike with his first offering. Moore has accomplished that 59.4 percent of the time this season. Last year, when he walked fewer than three batters per nine innings, Moore threw strike one almost exactly as often (60 percent).

    His strikeout rate is down, but he's still fanning over 20 percent of the batters he faces.

    Moore is suffering from the well-known phenomenon known as growing pains.

    Let's not forget, this kid is still just 22 years old and prior to this season, he had thrown fewer than 20 innings at the major league level.

    There's always a risk in acquiring a young player like this, but I think Matt Moore will be just fine. Case in point, he fanned eight and walked only one in his last start against the Boston Red Sox.

Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays 3B

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    Brett Lawrie hasn't been particularly lucky or unlucky this year, but he's lost a great deal of the momentum that vaulted him up draft boards before the season began.

    Based on visual and statistical evidence, the cause seems to be quite simple. Lawrie is just a little over-anxious.

    It's absolutely something to be expected given his position as a home-country hero for Canada's only MLB team, and it's clearly evident in Lawrie's plate discipline numbers.

    He's swinging more often this season, especially at pitches outside of the strike zone. Specifically, he's swinging at non-strikes 30 percent more often than he did last season.

    With that in mind, it's no surprise to see that he's making weaker contact this year.

    After posting a 0.85 GB/RB ratio last season (a strong number for a power hitter), that ratio has jumped to 2.33 this year.

    He's still managed to crank five home runs, but he's registered only 10 extra base hits this year after hitting a total of 21 in a similar sample size last season.

    Lawrie is an enormously talented player, and he will adjust. If his owner is frustrated by Lawrie's early power outage, now's the time to make an offer.

Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins SP

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    The seven strong innings that Josh Johnson tossed on Sunday make the task of buying low on his slightly more difficult, but even after that outing, his ERA sits at a lofty 4.82.

    However, you, the educated fantasy owner, know that Johnson's 2.89 FIP is much more indicative of his real production this season.

    You know that he's pitched well, but he's been victimized by a .385 BABIP and 65.5 percent strand rate.

    You know that even though he's lost a tick of velocity on his fastball, his whiff rate has only slightly deviated from his career average.

    He's made adjustments to his pitching pattern this season which have allowed him to maintain effectiveness without an overpowering heater. Johnson is throwing fewer fastballs, fewer sliders, and more curve balls. The change in approach hasn't much affected his ability to get hitters out, and it may help to protect him against future injury.

    Josh Johnson will always carry an elevated level of injury risk, but early returns from this season mean he's an excellent fantasy investment.

Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves C

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    Brian McCann hasn't been as startlingly unproductive as some of the other players on this list, but a depressed BABIP might give you a chance to snag the best catcher in fantasy at a discount.

    McCann has connected with a greater percentage of swings than ever before, cutting his swinging strike rate to just 4.4 percent, nearly half of his career average.

    Simply making more contact isn't always a good thing (see Brett Lawrie), but in McCann's case, there's no downside. He's maintained the same batted ball rates that have produced 20-plus home runs and a .270 average in recent seasons.

    With his improved contact rate, a bounce back in BABIP will bring his batting average somewhere between the .301 level he posted back in 2008 and the .333 he delivered in 2006. At the same time, there's no reason to expect any dip in his power or run production numbers.

    That makes McCann the best catcher on the market, with projections of a .310 average, 21 home runs and 67 RBI the rest of the way.